A proforma invoice (“PI”) is an administrative document used either as a commercial offer (to describe the sale conditions for specific products or services offered by a seller to a buyer) or as a document to request the payment of a delivery prior the shipment.
In general, proforma invoices are used to:
- obtain import licenses
- solicit and trigger payments or down payments/advances
- mobilize customs procedures prior to the shipping operations
- activate documentary credits (letter of credit)
- ship samples
Commercial invoices are administrative documents that describe the nature, the quantity and the price of products or services being sold by a seller to a buyer and any ancillary information related to the sale transaction (delivery, payment conditions, taxes, other expenses, warranty terms, and payment instructions).
Commercial invoices are generally accepted by the tax authorities of the importer country to appraise the nature of the transaction, its taxable value, the beneficiary of the payment, the payment terms and methods, etc. for the calculation of import duties and taxes when applicable (example: VAT, tariffs or other duties). On the buyer’s side, the commercial invoice is the document to determine the value of the sale, both for accounting and tax purposes.
The commercial invoice shall state the true and accurate value of the delivered goods or services.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFORMA AND COMMERCIAL INVOICE
A commercial invoice is issued to provide customs officials with enough information to determine the applicable import duties and the eligibility of the goods to be shipped into the country. A commercial invoice is a true invoice with tax and legal relevance, whereas a proforma invoice is not a true invoice (i.e the exporter does not record a credit in its accounting system, and the importer is not obliged to record a debit on the other hand). The proforma invoice is typically only used when a real delivery and the related financial transaction have not taken place yet. This type of invoice may look very similar to the actual commercial invoice, as it describes the merchandise and its value.
There are no specified formats for either proforma and commercial invoices (except for countries that require consular invoices). The difference is that a commercial invoice has always to show specific information to be considered valid from a tax and legal perspective, such as the description and the quantity of each item being shipped, the value of the shipment, the country of origin, the location of purchase, and the names and address of both the seller and the purchaser. Such indication may be missing on proforma invoices, which should just contain sufficient information to outline a future or upcoming transaction.
The exporter is always responsible for providing a commercial invoice to customs officials when shipping goods, merchandise or documents that involve monetary value and international payments. In some cases, when no monetary transaction has occurred, such as when goods are shipped as gifts or as samples for an anticipated future transaction, the exporter may use a proforma invoice (as no taxable money is received against the delivery).